Apr. 27, 2022

An Anointed Ministry, Part VI

(con't from Part VI)

Among the various Christian religious denominations of the present day there seems to be a widespread blurring of the lines about the biblical purposes of God-honoring music in worship.  Sadly, this is simply one minute thread in a very complex fabric of conflicting differences among all of these various breeds of Christianity, each sort having settled upon and officially adopted its own mutually exclusive set of interpretations, policies, procedures, and methods of government to be rigorously advocated and closely adhered to by its members.  The situation with which the Bible-believing Christian organist and church musician is faced when seeking a congregation to serve and perhaps also considering possible membership among so many of these sundry, multifarious communions and persuasions can be a challenging one.  The local expectations between congregations of the same denomination also may be quite different.  

The music ministry is not grounded in performance.  It is grounded in prayer.  The apostle Paul told the entire congregation of the church at Colosse to teach and admonish one another through the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with gratitude in their hearts (Col. 3:16).  We therefore have it on the authority of the Word of God that congregational singing is not to be neglected.  This means that congregational singing  should not be discouraged by gathering up all the hymnals and storing them in boxes.  This means that congregational singing should not be overpowered by a band of well-meaning instrumentalists to where congregants no longer sing.  In this day and age of self-help and feel-good messaging, worship music should not be selected merely as a matter of "relevance" or appeal simply because people want to hear in church the same pop songs they hear on the radio.  It should also not be chosen with the idea of holding the attention of an audience more effectively, or worse -- to facilitate an encounter with God or to move people closer to God.  This last notion is a rather serious theological error.  Music in this schema becomes a mediation between Deity and man, an idea which is closer to pagan practices than to Christian worship.

Popular, well-meaning, but mistaken notions such as this undermine the foundational biblical truth of the Christian faith that Christ is the only Mediator between God and man and that He alone is the One Who reconciles us to God.  It seems ironic that while many Christians deny the sacramental role of those ordinances which Christ Himself gave to His church, viz. baptism and the Lord's Supper, they are fine with granting the music at a worship event some sort of sacramental power as if it were a means by which we enter the presence of God and receive His saving benefits.  The fact of the matter is, there is nothing in Holy Scripture to indicate that music mediates or facilitates direct encounters or experiences with God.  This notion is far from Judao-Christian.

There's a fine line to be drawn here, one upon which, unfortunately, not all national assemblies, state synods, church boards, or professed ministers of the gospel of Christ agree.  Some strongly embrace the idea of having a diverse musical program because they believe it reflects the diverse nature of God's creation and that a diverse means of making a joyful noise of praise is more likely to appeal to a congregation of diverse listeners and thus more likely to draw them closer to God.  Caution here is needed:  when the music at an event is looked upon as a means to encounter God it can lead to several negative consequences, not the least of which is that the musicians become a surrogate for the Person of God's Spirit Who alone assumes that role in drawing people to Christ (John 6:44).  Any time the people in a congregation start believing that the organist, pianist, or other performing instrumentalists on the platform at a worship event (including vocalists who perform with prerecorded music) are successfully moving them into God's presence, the musicians will have attained a status that's far too high for their own good.

One does not have to be a trained singer to lift up the voice in Christian worship as a congregant with the singing of psalms, hymns, and sacred songs.  A Christian worship service is supposed to be about active participation, fellowship, using the spoken word and music to praise God and strengthen faith, communicating His Word, growing in understanding of the Lord's love and truth, and, if the true gospel is being preached, witnessing human lives changing for the better.  But, sadly, in some congregations, the weekly sermon is being regularly and deliberately sanitized of all unsettling messaging, and, with what looks like comparable intention, the lifting of voices in praise is being confined to only a few stage musicians.  People tend to want to feel good about themselves just as they are, they devote time to what they like, and they like being entertained.  So long as it resembles a musical extravaganza and no one is asking them to examine their own attitudes and behavior they usually don't mind sitting though a church service, but they tend to get disturbed at messages from the pulpit about their own sinful nature, their need for repentance and a complete turnaround in their thinking, and other matters of critical importance to their eternal peace and security such as the coming judgment, heaven and hell, prophecy, or the price they must pay in this life to follow Christ, to name just a few.  They would much rather listen to a "prosperity and feel-good gospel" that promises an abundance of divine favor, financial success, and a thriving life of good fortune and happiness by "putting God first."  This is a false gospel that some organists and church musicians, unknowingly it seems, may find themselves lending their talents to promote.

NOTE:  There are many people today determined to put God first in their lives but cannot enter the kingdom of God because they have never truly and sincerely repented of their sins and abandoned their old sinful ways, asked Christ to come into their hearts, surrendered their lives completely to Him, been converted by the Holy Spirit into a new creation in Him (born again), have His righteousness acredited to them, been saved by grace through faith, and have their names entered into the Lamb's Book of Life (Matt. 18:3, John 3:3-8, Rev. 20:11-15).  How sad, that some who think they're already heaven bound -- who may have had their names on the role of a church, who may have sung in the choir, played the organ for the choir, or played in the church orchestra, who may have cooked and cleaned and worked for the church, who may have been baptized, who may have attended services regularly, who may have had religion and plenty of it -- will end up self-condemned in the judgment because they were never born again and their names were never written into the Lamb's Book of Life.  Additionally this false gospel directly contradicts what Jesus told His followers, that in this world they would have trouble (John 16:33).  Whether we choose to accept Christ as our personal Saviour or not to accept Him, there is a price to be paid.  While it will cause us to experience some happiness at times, being a Christian in this world may cost us our friends, our family, our fortune, our possessions, our freedom, even our life.  But if we choose to reject Him in this life, we will pay a price later on -- of shame, self-condemnation, and eternal separation from God.  Since the true gospel message of salvation by grace through faith is embedded in the wording of many traditional hymns found in hymn books, it isn't unusual therefore, in the feel-good society in which we now live, in many contemporary Christian services and gatherings where music takes on a prominent role, for God's Word and traditional hymnody to be shortchanged and marginalized.  Faith however does not come from worshiptainment, dynamic experiences, or supposed encounters with God.  It is birthed and strengthened through the proclamation of God's Word (Rom.10:17).  When people get to associating God's presence with a particular feeling from a musical experience the question arises as to what happens when they no longer feel it.  Such believers often search for churches where the praise band, orchestra, or pipe organ produces in them the feelings they're chasing when the reality of God in their lives actually depends upon God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, drawing them to Christ, not on subjective experiences.

There is also the tendency for people who identify a feeling as an encounter with God where only a particular kind of music produces that feeling to insist that this same type of music be played regularly in their church or worship gatherings.  If everyone else in the congregation were to agree with that, then unity among them, albeit in error, is a possibility ... but, if others depend upon a different kind of music to produce the feeling that is important to them, then potential division within the church of Christ, one of the things the devil is interested in stirring up, is cultivated.  For anyone who gets used to associating particular feelings from listening to music as encounters with God, their demands for what produces those feelings usually become very rigid.  This is one reason why certain well-meaning pastors who are trying to hold their congregations together sometimes succumb to the temptation to offer multiple styles of worship services which, unfortunately, can have the unwanted and unintended effect of sanctioning division and self-centeredness.  There is but ONE style of a worship service, however, and that is to have Almighty God and Jesus Christ at the center of it.

The devil understands all of this and uses music and musicians, as tools and surrogates, respectively, to cunningly deceive the unwary by getting them to think that music is useful for drawing people to their object of worship, something that is nowhere found in Scripture and, as stated, actually has more in common with pagan practices than Christian worship.  Satan would just as soon send people to hell from a pew as he would the gutter -- it makes no difference to him.  Sadly, certain Christian evangelists, pastors, and ministers also have been influenced by this same thinking.  By way of review, Christ said that no one can come to Him unless the Father Who sent Him draws them (John 6:44).  The agent which does the "drawing" is none other than the Holy Spirit, NOT the performing arts or any other human agency.  It is the Person of God's Spirit Who reveals to someone, in gentle spiritual nudgings and inner awareness, Who Christ is, how much Christ loves them, why they need Him, and why they should follow Him.  This was revealed to the apostle Peter, for example, NOT by song or hymn but solely and exclusively by the Spirit of God working on his mind supernaturally (Matt.16:13-17).  It's absolutely biblical to use song and hymn to TEACH the message of Christ (Col. 3:16), but there's nothing in Scripture to indicate that God has ever used song or hymn as an agency to DRAW people to Christ or that people should presume that the Holy Spirit resorts to using musical sound vibrations to reach the hearts of men when all else fails.  Those who have been saved at a certain worship service who claim it was the music at that event which drew them to Christ need to understand that it was the presence of God's Spirit at that event Who drew them, not the music they heard.  The music may or may not have been written or improvised under the guiding influence of God's Spirit, but the combination of tones, how they're arranged, and how they're realized in performance, no matter how uplifting and edifying the resulting sound may seem to be, has no saving power.  Remove the Holy Spirit from the equation -- and NO ONE listening to worship music is saved.  Repeating, Christ Himself indicated that the Person of God's Spirit reaches the hearts of men supernaturally (John 6:44).  It's rather important for those working in the music ministry to know and understand the subtlety of this difference.

SOMETHING ELSE DEMANDS COMMENT:  Those contemporary composers who are writing art music for the King of Instruments authentically (that is, on an unrestricted canvas with freedom unabridged to express the entire range of musical thought and human emotion at the touch of a key) may be surprised to learn that Satan, the prince of the power of the air whose pride, envy, jealousy, greed, malice, and hatred for God is implacable and incurable, has influenced certain composers to write so-called Dark Gothic organ music, sometimes called Dark Ambient Fantasy music, to facilitate his own devious agenda to dupe, befool, distract, and blind the minds of as many human souls as he can, that they may then look upon their own sinfulness and need for redemption as inconsequential.  This is a deadly serious matter.  Not satisfied simply tampering with, hustling, mis-recording, and redubbing BWV 565 as "the Dracula toccata," something which would have had J.S. Bach infuriated [See blog, Bach d minor, Part III], self-serving individuals like these have used their God-given talents and modern music-writing technology in even more revolting ways by composing brand new pagan ritual and satanic ceremonial organ music of their own, making computer-generated audio clips of the same, and posting these on social media as Dark Gothic slide shows easily accessible, even to children.  These pathetic, gullable musicians, sad to say, are allowing themselves to be talked into hell by the same devious, malevolent cherub who had the ability to talk a third of the angels out of heaven.  These people are dishonest about revealing who they are.  They adopt fictitious mystery names to conceal their true identities, deviously try to hide behind them, have no clue about how many other culpable people these musical creations of theirs will irretrievably harm, and don't care.  The organ music they manage to forge is typically devoid of animated counterpoint, is improvisatory in nature, and generally separates into three primary stereotypical types:  1) the brooding, mysterious piece of irregular free rhythm and arcane mood, 2) the lively dance-like piece of thin texture and regular rhythm, and 3) the invariably loud piece of acrimonious mood having dissonant notes and chords held against animated repetitive figuration.  Within this broad classification there are multiple subtypes of each grouping which vary in texture, tempo, dynamics, and registration.  This trinity of types and subtypes also is found blended into a single massive admixture, producing a lengthy meandering fantasia that could occupy an hour or more of listening.  Written invariably in minor keys using a triadic tonal vocabulary, this music is jam-packed with a preponderance of minor chords moving above droning pedal points; it makes liberal use of tritones and other dissonant intervals, tonally ambiguous bare 4ths and 5ths, and is peppered with agitated, repeated patterns that rudely intrude themselves.  Not surprisingly, while it's cleverly contrived for its intended effect of fostering nervous apprehension and dread among listeners, this music is ambiguous in form, speaks only in somber and abridged musical language, writes its own rules, and takes unexpected turns, sometimes roaming about the tonal landscape like a roaring lion, modulating to suit itself.

It's disturbing enough that creepy "haunted house music" like this manufactured solely for its shock factor is being adored and applauded as the work of genius, which it is NOT -- it cannot begin to compare with the masterpieces of giants like Bach, Reger, Franck, or Vierne -- but it's nothing short of horrifying to discover that more and more gulled individuals who have come under its malicious charms, people for whom Christ died, are filling their ears with it every day and seriously contemplating this bogus and pretentious babel for their own wedding and funeral music.  Make no mistake:  Dark Gothic or Dark Ambient Fantasy music is NOT authentically written, as thus defined; it is nothing of the kind -- it is written in a tenebrous and ghoulish shorthand using means that are always predictably dictated -- it is improvised in a murky and caliginous dialect that is always slavishly followed -- it is the product of dark intelligence and design -- a morose and at times raucous, counterfeit clamor practiced by rueful, lamentable human souls who have dabbled in the occult, hardened their hearts, turned their backs on and mocked God, Christ, and the Bible, planted their flags with the powers of darkness, put themselves on a very dangerous track, and are quite happy to stay there [See blog, An Annointed Ministry, Part V].  Crafted under and inspired by the Muse of demonic influence and publicized from behind a wall of secrecy, scores like this (some of which have been made printable for a fee) are an artificial and defective substitute for the real thing.  Such scores are fabricated by imprisoned minds held in restraints.  It is creativity stripped of liberty and license, robbed of all traces of equanimity, composure, peace, serenity, poised assurance, and joy, and are coldly calculated to rob the listener of the same.  Such scores in their cookie-cutter semblance have nothing to teach, no innocuous or beneficial use not even for private let alone public amusement, and, by sounding as if heavily influenced by supernatural or supernormal powers or some secret knowledge of them, stand in bold defiance of the righteous wrath and retributive justice of Almighty God Who considers ALL forms of occultism an abomination (1Cor. 10:21).  For organists and church musicians in whom the Spirit of God is or should be dwelling, this is as just about as repulsive and sinful as it gets, it expresses contempt for the one true God Who gives the great gift of music to man, and it's a ticket to follow rebellious angels into an unimaginably awful and eternal place of punishment made just for them, a place where people were never meant to go.  As the Reverend Billy Graham so rightly taught, "Hell was never created for man.  God will never send anybody to hell.  If man goes to hell, he goes by his own free choice.  Hell was created for the devil and HIS angels, NOT for man.  Man was never meant to go there.  And God has done everything within His power to keep you out.  He even sent His Son to die on a cross to keep you out."

The Word of God is full of exhortations to God's people to sing and make music to the Lord, and He has been gracious to give man the means and the great gift of music to praise Him.  The word "gospel" means "good news," and that same gospel or good news of Christ Jesus is that holy God is an awesome God Who loves us, and while He has created us free moral agents, given us the ability to live any kind of life we want, will not trespass on our own free choice, will not make us love Him, follow Him, or obey Him even though our sinfulness has separated ourselves from Him -- even in spite of all this He has mercy and forgiveness to offer us and a plan of redemption to bring us back to Himself.  These same sentiments are expressed in the stanzas of a great many hymns of praise that fill our anthem and hymn books.  Faith -- confidence in God -- can grow and become stronger because God wants it to grow and has provided the resources to achieve this, starting with the Bible.  Faith grows when the mind and soul are saturated with the Word of God, and hymns and anthems are important tools in the hands of organists and church musicians to harness the power of the Word of God to change lives.  It's important therefore to keep in mind that God-honoring music in worship is NOT made to make worship services more pleasant or entertaining, as an antidote for boredom, to promote individual or team musicianship, or even to facilitate an encounter with God.  It IS made, however, for at least four other biblical purposes:

1) to offer praise of and thanksgiving to God (Ps.147:7),

2) to express the joy of salvation in loud and jubilant rejoicing (Ps.98:4-5),

3) to teach the message of Christ and admonish others in a spirit of gratitude (Col.3:16), and

4) to demonstrate, feed, and strengthen the faith of believers (Matt.26:30, Mark14:26, Acts16:25).  

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